EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — There are particular things the Panthers can point to in the aftermath of an ugly loss to the Giants.
Converting just 2-of-15 third-down attempts would be one of them.
Rushing just 17 times for 56 yards the week after saying they wanted to commit to the run would be another.
Allowing an offense that was without its left tackle and top four skill position players to score 25 points would be another.
But when Panthers head coach Matt Rhule stood in the aftermath of a 25-3 defeat, he was thinking about what’s next, and who he wanted to do it with.
“After a game like this, you kind of want to go back in the locker room, and come back with all the same guys and see how they respond,” Rhule said. “Bad stuff happens. What do we look like next week? We better look different next week, or the conversation changes. I think that’s fair. The guys would say that’s fair. I would say that’s fair. This happened. This was not what anyone wanted.
“Let’s see who responds. Let’s see who’s got that edge. I’ve always said I wanted this to be a serious football place. Part of that’s having a real edge about ourselves. Everything can’t be happy go lucky. We want to become a tough franchise, a tough building. And I have not gotten that done. When something like this happens, that goes right on my shoulders. I have not gotten that done.”
Not many did Sunday.
While all the focus in the coming days will likely be on quarterback Sam Darnold and the offense — after Darnold was pulled during another flat performance — there were plenty of issues to go around.
“Each man on our defense has to step up, and make some plays,” Rhule said. “We’re in position to make plays, I just don’t see us making enough plays.”
That’s not the head coach blaming one side of the ball more than another, that was a simple recognition.
For all the individual reasons, the Panthers have lost four in a row, in worrisome fashion.
Defensive end Brian Burns acknowledged as much afterward.
“Can’t let the game get away from us,” Burns said. “Strictly as a defense, we can’t let it get away from us. We have to keep holding to field goals, keep taking the ball away, keep playing complementary football, put the offense in great positions to score. We’ve got to keep doing our jobs.”
Those jobs get tougher, and come with more pressure, as the losses stack up. Burns was around when the Panthers lost nine of their final 10 games in 2019 and a five-game losing streak which spoiled a 3-2 start last year.
“We need to fix it right now before it gets scary,” Burns said. “It’s scary right now, to be honest. Whatever it is, we need to fix it now and bounce back like no other.
“I don’t want to have another season like, . . . some other seasons I’ve been part of.
“It’s embarrassing. No disrespect to the Giants, but it’s embarrassing to lose four in a row.”
There are tangible things they have to fix. Plenty of them, in fact.
But when they get back to work in the morning, the things Rhule wants to see aren’t things you can put into a spreadsheet.
“We have to get ourselves going. The same thing happened last year. We’ve got to get it fixed,” Rhule said. “Losing like this has to infuriate and upset us.”